“Mama Vinton, with Jesus, nothing can go wrong.” I found her words both encouraging and touching – and I saw faith written all over her face, wiping away fear. These sweet words were spoken by Steven’s wife as she prepared for her husband to leave their home in the village to go all the way across the country to the one and only cancer hospital in the country located in Dar es Salaam. Kaposi Sarcoma is a nasty skin cancer that attacks so many of my friends here living with the AIDS virus. They will all die horrible, painful deaths – but if we can get them all the way to Dar they can get treatment and they can live. Many of them have never travelled very far at all and certainly not all the way to the big city of Dar, so I have them travel in groups, so that they are together on the long bus ride and so they can navigate the big city of Dar together, and so that no one is ever alone.
I smiled at Steven’s wife’s kind words and her faith. She made the ache inside of me less – because in truth sometimes things can and do go horribly wrong. And it is still raw in my mind and soul of how we lost 26 year old Oswad last week. Oswad was a fine man, with a lovely wife. He was a father of two and he lived with this nasty Kaposi Sarcoma. Oswad’s first two trips to the hospital in Dar went well and he did indeed start to get better, and we all rejoiced. But on his third trip, the radiation machine at the hospital was broken, and he returned back here to the village without having gotten his treatment, and that was when everything began unraveling.
I saw him two days after returning here from America in April. The motorcycle driver who dropped Oswad off at my door quickly left. And before I ever saw Oswad with my eyes, there was the smell. The smell of something that was dead and yet somehow growing. It seemed my whole house reeked of death.
I had bleach and a brush and flagyl power for the wound and I did what we could to get Oswad ready to go to the little hospital in Kibao that is run by a very caring group of catholic sisters. But I didn’t know what to do. If a motorcycle driver had hurriedly dumped Oswad, what driver of what vehicle would agree to take him? That evening with no transport of any kind available, two of my faithful students took turns carrying him on their backs to his home. I love those kids for being so caring. It was a miracle that we found a way to get him to the hospital in Kibao, but after a week, even the sisters said his condition was beyond them, and they referred him to a bigger hospital. And so armed with their letter of referral and a letter of introduction from me for Oswad, I was sure that all would be taken care of, especially and in particular the horrific smell coming from his wounds. I was suspicious when the hospital never called and never sent me a bill. It turned out that Oswad had in fact never made it to the hospital. Bus driver after bus driver in the town of Mafinga had refused for Oswad to get on a bus to get to that hospital. The goal had been to get that smell under control so that he could take a bus to Dar for treatment.
I can only begin to imagine Oswad’s despair of realizing he wasn’t going to the hospital, the only thing that could save him. I was called to where Oswad had landed – at the small stick and mud grass-roofed house of an uncle in a nearby village. The smell was so terribly awful when I got there. People were crowded all around, trying to get a look Poor guy. I sent the on-lookers with buckets to go and get water. All I could think of was if they were there and they wanted to gawk then at least they were going to help! I once again brought out the bleach, more brushes, Flagyl powder, perfume, new clothes and bandages. My plan was to kill the smell and wrap the diseased leg with bandages, disposable diapers all inside of a pretty pillow case held shut by tape. We practiced this all several times with his helper, so that he would be ready for the big trip. I actually was really full of hope that we would succeed.
And so once again Oswad went to Mafinga to try to get on a bus. Every single bus driver was adamant. Turns out that the bleach, clean bandages, Flagyl powder, disposable diapers and pretty pillow cases only work for so long. Once the body heats up, all that hard work melts away into nothing.
Oswad was taken back home, and then moved to his mother’s as no one else would agree to have him. Again, I can’t imagine the rejection or the complete despair that he must have felt. Everyone had rejected him – except his mother. The love of a mother is sacrificial and long suffering. An elderly woman carrying extra water everyday to clean his wounds, and wash his clothes. The extra firewood carried to keep him warm. In all of these Kaposi Sarcoma cases that become out of control, I see time and again it is the loving mother who never leaves. In addition to Oswad’s mother though, there was someone else who never left Oswad, and that someone was Jesus. Oswad had met during this long painful journey the One who promises to never leave us nor to forsake us. He had experienced also terrible rejection and terrible despair and was able to comfort Oswad in a way that I never could. Oswad faced his cancer and his rejection differently than anyone else I have ever seen.
A week ago, I sent another four of my friends with Kaposi Sarcoma heading to Dar es Salaam. Scola is traveling with them. She beat her cancer several years ago and has gone on to live a wonderful and productive life – taking time out from her business to volunteer every time I have a group ready to go to the hospital. What I have learned over the years in the hospital system is that a beautiful gal can turn heads and open doors. And best of all, this gorgeous gal knows what a patient’s rights are in these government hospitals better I’m sure than any lawyer. She leads others through the overwhelming maze at the hospital – and so she now is leading these four friends as she has led so many others. I don’t want anyone to die the horrible way Oswad has died. And so we do what we can. Money buys bus tickets to the hospital, money makes sure people have food and a place to stay, but Scola provides what money can’t buy – the means for poor people from these villages to make it through that huge maze of bureaucracy at the hospital so they can actually get their treatment. And it is the prayers of people like Steven’s wife, and the fervent prayers of those who join us in this work, that do what money can’t do – they provide hope and comfort and faith. We’re just doing the best that we know how. Because to do nothing would be unthinkable.
Please do pray for them.
In His service,